Written by Susan Campbell, Thunder Radio
With the presidential election quickly approaching, election commission officers around the country are scrambling to meet the need for additional poll workers, and Coffee County Administrator of Elections Andy Farrar is no exception.
COVID-19, coupled with the older age of most poll workers, has led to a critical shortage around the country because many experienced poll workers are choosing to stay home. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, even as Tennessee and many other states expand access to vote-by-mail and absentee voting options, many county residents, especially voters with disabilities and those who lack reliable mail service, will continue to rely on in-person voting to cast a ballot.
According to Farrar, Coffee County had 141 Election Day workers on Aug. 6. However, many poll workers who had worked the March 3 primary canceled due to coronavirus concerns.
“Most of our poll officials, while concerned, attended the training and when they learned of the precautions we were taking felt a little more at ease,” Farrar said. “Some workers who had concerns due to pre-existing conditions did not work, understandably.”
During the August election, the Coffee County Election Commission implemented several changes designed to make both voters and poll workers feel safe during both early voting and on Election Day.
“Each voter was given an ink pen with a stylus that they signed all documents with and voted on the voting machine with,” Farrar said. “This way, no one was sharing pens or touching the voting machines. We also had sanitizer stations for workers and voters, social distancing signs and floor stickers showing each 6-foot space to stand in line. All voting machines were separated by 6 feet, as well.”
Farrar said all election workers were required to wear masks, and were offered gowns, gloves and face shields if they chose to wear them.
“I tried to make this as comfortable of an experience for everyone during this pandemic,” Farrar said. “During the November Election as it stands today all of the same measures will be in place and possibly a few more based on feedback we received during the August election.”
On Nov. 3, Coffee County voters will choose a president, as well as one U.S. senator and one U.S. House member. The largest election of the 4-year cycle, Farrar plans on adding between 20 and 30 additional poll workers. Smaller precincts will have five or six workers, with large precincts having 69 workers.
“We base this on voter turnout over the last four to eight years,” Farrar said.
Coffee County has 21 voting precincts: four in Manchester, 10 in rural Coffee County, and seven in Tullahoma.
Poll workers in Coffee County are compensated approximately $110 for training, according to Farrar, but to receive the compensation they are required to attend and work on Election Day. Anyone interested in becoming a poll official may go to www.coffeecountyelectioncommission.com, or www.govotetn.com, click on the link and fill out the form, which will be received by email at the election commission office.
Early voting begins Oct. 14 and ends Oct. 29. Election Day is Nov. 3. Absentee by-mail requests are available for registered voters who qualify until Oct. 27.